Friday, April 25, 2014

Highlights of New York: A Collection of Classics

One of the best places to experience New York City's renowned architecture is in a one mile span of Midtown East. No other city features so many significant styles and buildings in such a condensed area. In the span of just a few blocks, you can witness Art Deco splendour, Moorish Revival magnificence, and quintessential glass-curtain modernism. Perhaps no other city possesses such an iconic skyline. On a sunny afternoon, we decided to take our own walking tour of the city's classic architectural highlights, and explore Manhattan's urban and pastoral icons.

NYC's iconic art deco Chrysler Building, built in the 1930s, is the tallest brick building in the world

With its glittering tiered crown and tall slender proportions, the Chrysler Building on the corner of 42nd and Lexington is the city's reigning beauty queen. One of the finest examples of Art Deco architecture anywhere, the graceful skyscraper also briefly held the title of world's tallest building when it was completed in 1930. Eleven months later, the Empire State Building stole the title. Walter P. Chrysler commissioned the architect William Van Alen to build this impressive headquarters for his car company, and incorporated various elements of Chrysler vehicles, including the radiator grills, winged radiator caps, and hood ornaments, into the design of the building. There's no observation deck but it's worth peeking into the lavishly decorated lobby, which fittingly includes a chromed steel trim and a huge mural depicting the golden age of motoring. 

Declared a National Historic Monument, the metal clad entrance off Lexington shows it's art deco heritage

The lobby's ceiling mural entitled, "Energy, Result, Workmanship and Transportation," by Edward Turnbull was covered up with paint in the 1970's until it was restored to its comer glory

There are dozens of libraries in New York but when people refer to "The Library," they can only be talking about one place, the iconic building on Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets — The New York Public Library. The firm behind its design, Carrère and Hastings, was relatively unknown when it won a citywide contest to design the library in 1897, and created the Beaux Art-style building with its white marble façade we see today: the wide steps are a time-honored meeting place flanked by "Patience" and "Fortitude", the two lion sculptures that guard the entrance that were given their names by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia during the Great Depression. The enormous Reading Room on the top floor with it's spectacular gilt framed ceiling murals might look familiar from films such as Breakfast at Tiffany's and Ghostbusters. The library recently turned 100 but like any great lady, it barely shows its age at all. 

New York's majestic Beaux-Arts Public Library

Patience and Fortitude, the world-renowned pair of marble lions that stand proudly outside the library

New York Public Library’s Rose Main Reading Room

The reading room's spectacular mural and gilt wood ceiling

In all of New York, it's hard to find a more magnificent building that sees more foot traffic than Grand Central Station. When it opened in 1913, the massive Beaux Arts building represented a huge achievement in urban planning. Today the structure houses magazine stands, various shops and commuters rushing for trains to Westchester and Connecticut. But the building's mythic grandeur still persists, as we walked into the enormous main concourse and looked up, a vision of brilliant greenish blue, depicting the constellations of the winter sky above New York. French painter Paul Helleu's creation is complemented throughout the station by gold chandeliers, intricate stone and marble work  and two main staircases modeled after the grand staircase of the Paris Opera House. To round out the experience, there's the famous Oyster Bar for a quick lunch, or the station's hidden Campbell Apartment Bar where you can enjoy a martini in a refined, old-world setting.

Grand Central Terminal sign

The cavernous main hall of Grand Central Station with the masterful sky ceiling, a brilliant greenish blue, depicting the constellations of the winter sky above New York

The splendid four-sided “ball clock” in Central Station's main hall, was erected in 1913

The ticket windows at Grand Central Terminal are framed by ornate brass covers and fixtures

The interior is handsomely detailed with Botticino marble in every direction

Elaborate marble carvings still exist above each of Grand Central Station's track entrances

The Campbell Apartment Bar

As the first office tower to rise on the World Trade Centre site, the new structure, One World Trade Centre, redefines the New York skyline, reasserting downtown Manhattan as a bustling business centre, and establishing an impressive new architectural icon for the country. The new tower is reminiscent of the slender, tapering triangular forms of great New York City icons such as the Chrysler Building and Empire State Building, and replaces almost one quarter of the office space lost on September 11, 2001. 

The new World Trade Centre

An aerial tram goes from lower Manhattan over to Roosevelt Island, 
home to the FDR Four Freedoms Park

Designed by architect Louis Kahn, The FDR Four Freedoms Park is a 4-acre memorial to Franklin D. Roosevelt that celebrates the Four Freedoms he articulated in his 1941 State of the Union address

It's been nearly 40 years since New York City started planning a memorial to President Franklin Roosevelt on an island in the East River. Welfare Island was renamed Roosevelt Island, and architect Louis Kahn was commissioned to design a park honouring the 32nd president. The memorial park was never realized, until 2 years ago. The park consists of a 4-acre triangular expanse of green, flanked by over 100 trees leading to a colossal bronze bust of Roosevelt at the threshold of a square white granite open-air plaza. The statue is an enlargement of a 28-inch bust of Roosevelt created by American portrait sculptor Jo Davidson, and sits in a stone niche on the back of which a passage from the Four Freedoms speech is carved. In the next several years, the park hopes to transform a nearby abandoned 19th-century smallpox hospital into a visitor's centre. Accessed by a small aerial tram that goes from from midtown to Roosevelt Island, it's one of the most dramatic journeys you make in Manhattan, and offers amazing views of the East River, the Queensboro Bridge and views high above Manhattan.

A bronze bust of FDR sculpted in 1933 by Jo Davidson

On January 6, 1941, Roosevelt delivered the historic Four Freedoms speech, which have been etched into this Memorial wall

"In the future days, which we seek to make secure, 
we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. 
The first is freedom of speech and expression - everywhere in the world. 
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way -everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want, which translated into world terms, 
means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants - everywhere in the world. 
The fourth is freedom from fear...anywhere in the world. 
That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation."

— Franklin Delano Roosevelt —

Looking north through the park with the Queensboro Bridge and the ruins of the Smallpox Centre

Roosevelt Island used to be a quarantine centre for smallpox victims and to house the city's Psychiatric patients, with many of the abandoned ruins still standing

The view from FDR Four Freedoms Park over the East River to lower Manhattan

We came across two fellow Canadians on our walk to the memorial

New York's Central Park was the first urban landscaped park in the United States, design by Frederick Law Olmsted and architect Calvert Vaux. Today, the park is a beloved natural gem, an urban oasis in the middle of Manhattan. With magnificent gardens, woodlands, a lake, scenic jogging and bike trails, sweeping lawns, athletic fields, and Boathouse Restaurant, Central Park is a sanctuary for New Yorkers and visitors alike. The park's classic architecture, fountains, performance venues, carousel, historic landmarks and attractions such as Central Park Children's Zoo and Wildlife Center, National Weather Station and Nature Observatory at Belvedere Castle, Delacorte Theatre, Bethesda Terrace, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, makes it one of those places that make New York such a great place to live and enjoy some life's simple pleasures in the heart of New York City.

Belvedere Castle in Central Park with The Dakota in the background 

Belvedere Castle, built in 1867 by Central Park designer and architect Calvert Vaux as an observation tower, but now acts as a Visitor's Centre and home to the Henry Luce Nature Observatory

Central Park's Delacourte Clock with dancing animals

A Jazz Trio performing in the middle of the Park on a sunny afternoon

"Woody" the Central Park Woodpecker

Bethesda Fountain rises high above Bethesda Terrace and overlooking the 'Lake', 
in the heart of Central Park

Kids gather on a sunny Sunday afternoon to try their hands at making enormous bubbles

Stephen Duncan, Central Park's Bubble Man

A Chinese musician playing the two-string Erhu, creating the most haunting melodies

Rowers on the lake in front of The Boathouse Restaurant

Cherry blossoms in bloom

The John Lennon Memorial in Strawberry Fields, Central Park

The Metropolitan Museum is an easy walk from Central Park

The Metropolitan Museum's Petrie Café menu

A cold Brooklyn Lager seemed the appropriate NYC beverage to choose

Wonderful warm squishy rolls staved off our hunger until our soup arrived

Potato and Parsnip Soup with chive oil and a garnish of fried parsnip shavings

Spring Shrimp Salad with green beans, tomato and croutons in a light tarragon dressing

View across the lake to Central Park South, as we wind our way back to our home away from home  for our stay in NYC, The Beacon Hotel on Manhattan's Upper West Side

The Beacon Hotel on the Upper West Side is friendly, well situated, reasonably priced and offers suites and standard rooms with marble bathrooms and small kitchenettes

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